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No Ordinary Guy

July 25, 1993

Regarding "A Guy Named Louis," by Robert Palmer (July 11):

I enjoyed Palmer's story about Louis Jordan and the revival of his music in "Five Guys Named Moe." As Louis' manager for eight years, I thought I might clear up a few observations.

Chick Webb asked Jordan to leave the band because he thought that Louis had a romantic interest in his young girl singer, Ella Fitzgerald. Jordan went to work with Walter Martin's band at the Elks RendezVous. Walter was a drummer who played the timpani and asked Louis to front the band; that's where the Tympany in the band's name, the Tympany Five, came from. I booked Jordan into the Capitol Lounge in Chicago in May, 1941. Martin came along as the drummer--without his timpani. The musicians received $35 a week; Louis' salary was $36.

Jordan took great pride in his musicianship and was reluctant to become an entertainer. He thought his fellow musicians would think he was making a fool of himself. Only by attrition and by his being supplied fun songs did he become an entertainer. Booking him in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, helped too. There were no musicians around to think he was making a fool of himself.


Toluca Lake


Palmer writes that in 1944 Jordan's records started crossing over to the pop charts. He might have added that three of Jordan's songs that year also went onto Billboard's country chart (called "folk" at the time).

"Ration Blues" was the No. 1 country song for three weeks in the spring (its flip side, "Deacon Jones," made it to No. 7), and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby)" spent five weeks at the top of the country heap in late summer.

Can you imagine, say, Luther Vandross or Bobby Brown dominating today's country charts?



Dawson is the co-author of "What Was the First Rock 'n' Roll Record" (Faber & Faber).


As a 68-year-old blues and jazz lover, I found that Robert Palmer's article on Louis Jordan and the accompanying story by Barbara Isenberg on "Five Guys Named Moe" were terrific except for one thing. Didn't the authors have enough room among dozens of paragraphs and hundreds of words to mention (even once!) Fats Waller?

At one time during the Depression, Waller wrote five songs for five hamburgers--they all became hits. Some are even mentioned in your articles, though he is not credited.

Racism killed Fats. Outside of Harlem he could hardly get work, and he died alone of pneumonia on the L.A.-to-New York train.



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